Last week we wrote about signs that can help you recognize the ongoing impacts of a child’s medical trauma on you, the parent or provider. This week, I wanted to continue with strategies that can help you recenter yourself even amid the continuing influence of trauma.
One challenge with the reorganization that follows trauma is that no single strategy will be best for every person. Sure, some types of therapy have been shown to work better than others on a population-wide level — but that doesn’t mean that the “proven” therapy is best for every person! Chances are you will need to look inside yourself to predict which strategy will be best for you, and then maybe you will need to experiment with therapies to see if your predictions are correct.
As you undertake this process of exploration, keep one thing in mind: Your mind will fight to protect its established patterns. Change is HARD! This means that you may find yourself consciously or subconsciously downplaying the effectiveness of exactly the strategies that are most effective. Trust yourself, but also observe yourself… and as you start to explore the possibility of life, and even growth, after trauma, be aware that it can take hard work.
The following is not meant to recommend specific therapies, but to lay out the landscape of four strategies that have been shown to help others.
1. Talk-Based Psychotherapies
Though there are many “flavors” of talk-based psychotherapy, in general the goal of most of these therapies is to try to talk through the trauma or what happened, and connect the cognitive experience with the emotional impact. In the context of a child’s medical trauma, a goal of psychotherapy could be to help your brain come to terms with the idea that the scary emotions floating around in your brain are connected to a specific event or series of events, and not necessarily to life in general. In other words, psychotherapy can help a patient understand on a deep, visceral level that a past trauma doesn’t necessarily mean that bad things are still present in the world around you.
It isn’t giving in to allow yourself to take medication that allows you to get your feet back on the ground. Healing requires space. And in a state of heightened urgency that often accompanies the aftermath of trauma, you may not have this space. One use of modern medications is to help patients stabilize emotionally, psychologically, and behaviorally so that they can work with other supportive therapies to re-establish a new sense of normal.
Connecting online or in-person with people who have had similar experiences can make you feel less isolated and can help you unpack the impact all of this has had on you.
4. Slow Down
Sometimes healing comes through the awareness of what makes you feel grounded — for some, intentionally slowing down and allowing yourself to feel grounded at home and in your work, or intentionally taking time to exercise, or to read or to not go out every weekend. The reason is that many of the activities and obligations that pack your life can also function as blankets that dampen your need to feel and process past experiences. If you’re always busy, you don’t have to feel! Intentionally taking time to feel your experience can help you process it. Of course, it may be that as you start to peel back this blanket that has covered your trauma, you end up needing additional support.
After trauma, you can feel like a puzzle broken into a thousand pieces. Now as you start to put the pieces back together, know that the puzzle will never look the way it did before. But your puzzle can be full again. It’s going to look different but it will be okay.
Dr. Pikiewicz earned her PhD in Clinical Psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Carpinteria, CA. She completed pre-doctoral training at the Nan Tolbert Nurturing Center in Ojai, CA, and her post-doctoral internship at the Boulder Institute for Psychotherapy and Research. At both sites, Dr. Pikiewicz worked with a range of adult, adolescent and child clients in individual, couple, family and group settings. She also holds a B.S. in environmental science from Allegheny College and a teaching credential from Western Washington University.